Now that the US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and we're essentially just watching the Earth circle the drain, it's the perfect time to tell you: Swapping solar photovoltaics (PV) for coal could save America tens of thousands of lives each year—and millions of dollars—in addition to the whole "slowing down the world's inevitable demise" thing.
The data comes from a new study published in Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, for which researchers gathered data from peer-reviewed journals and the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate US deaths per kilowatt hour (kWh—how electrical energy is measured) per year for both coal and solar power.
Per their calculations, 51,999 US lives would be saved—along with $1.1 million per life—by switching to solar power. "In addition to saving lives, solar is producing energy, which has economic value," Joshua Pearce, study co-author and professor of materials science and electrical engineering at Michigan Technological University, said in a press release.
Coal-powered electricity is currently the largest contributor to US carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 30 to 40 percent of C02 pollution, as well as 23 percent of all air pollutants, according to the study. That poor air quality affects human health in a variety of ways, including illnesses of the respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, urinary, and digestive systems.
Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart attacks are the top health effects from coal combustion emissions, with 22.9 million, 12.1 million, and 7.9 million people suffering from those conditions in the US, respectively. Conversely, solar power produces no emissions harmful to human health or otherwise.
Of course, the switch to solar power won't be easy—or cheap. In order to fully replace the coal production in the US with solar PV, it would take 755 gigawatts (for reference, there are only 22.7 gigawatts of solar power in the US currently), at a cost of $1.5 trillion. But according to this research, it's still a profitable investment. "My overall takeaway from this study is that if we're rational and we care about American lives—or even just money—then it's time to end coal in the US," Pearce said.
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